I Failed My First Graduate School Exam

I Failed My First Graduate School Exam

And even when your hope is gone,  move along, move along just to make it through” — The All American Rejects

Yesterday was a terrible day for me. The weather was gloomy, it was colder than it has been and I woke up later than usual. I always say that by noon you can tell whether you have won the day or not. I remember thinking at precisely 12:22 pm, that this day was looking like a loss.

On Monday’s I only have one class, Media Evolution. The course takes place from 2:30 to about 5:15 pm. By 2 pm I decided that although my day wasn’t going the best, I was going to have a good attitude. At the start of class, my professor stated she would hand back our exams we took last week. To be honest, I knew that I didn’t perform well on the exam and didn’t even want to see what my grade was. I took that test right after my whole job quitting fiasco, I didn’t correctly study, and I knew that it wasn’t my best work.

Before handing back the exams, my professor expressed how the class didn’t do as well as she expected.

“The grades were just disappointing.” She lamented.

Part of me felt relieved that even if I did poorly at least, I wasn’t alone. The other part of me felt bad because although I was expecting a mediocre grade, I’m confident some of my colleagues were about to be highly disappointed. As the professor handed back exams, I saw the looks of disappointment on many faces. It bothered me to see my peers kind of down. When the professor handed me back my exam, I held my breath. I flipped through the exam booklet to see 68, D+ in red letters.

It’s something about bad grades in red that make me feel ten times worse. In my head, the bad grade is yelling at me saying,

“You failed dumbass. Do better.”

Fortunately, I looked over at one student’s test and happened to see that he earned a 102% on his test. Seeing his grade lead me to believe that it wasn’t the fault of the professor, but on me for merely preparing poorly.

After our exams were returned, the entire mood of the class felt different. I thought we were less engaged in class and everyone was over it. Even for me, that night after I went home, I was sad. I felt defeated and that I should do more.

Following a series of excellent R&B, candles, and self-care, I came to three conclusions that made me feel better.

Failure Doesn’t Define Me

I’ve made good grades, and I have made bad grades. I have excelled in some classes and failed in others. In retrospect, I always felt the same either way. What I have come to understand is that I’m not defined by my grades or any metric of that kind. After I left that class, the D+ was a dagger to my self-esteem and intelligence. I kept telling myself,

“You suck, you shoulda done better.”

“You need to be more.”

“How are you going to teach people when you can’t teach yourself Media Evolution?”

I completely allowed that one instance to define who I was. Realistically, it’s just a test, and there will be others. I can’t let that single exam override all the great things that I have done and continue to do.

Tough Conversations With Myself Are Imperative For Success

Although it is unhealthy to be defined by grades and academic work they are still important. My professor made it clear that we would have an exam on October 9th ahead of time. She also made herself available to answer questions during office hours. The standards were clear I just missed the mark. The only person I can blame is Christopher.

There’s a brilliant Harvard Business School article on having tough conversations with yourself. In the article, Erica Ariel Fox writes,

“What makes conversations difficult is the desire to avoid them, and the way we lose our cool when we have them. Practice makes powerful. The same is true whether you’re talking to someone else, or to yourself.”

I could write this beautiful, optimistic blog about how I’m not going to let grades define me and sit in the space of avoidance, but that wouldn’t serve anyone. Instead, it is vital that I accurately assess where I can improve and do better the next time. Graduate school is expensive, and I don’t have the time or money to retake classes. I have to be brutally honest with myself, see where I can improve and do better.

So often in academics, we look to blame the professor or want to know the class average. Those factors may be significant, but those elements are out of my control. The only factor I can change in this situation is me. I have to have a real conversation with myself and see where I can grow.

Let It Go

Yes, I got a D+ and it stung. I now understand that I have to reassess my time and do better. Now that I have come to this understanding, I have to move on. I can’t continue to dwell in the space of failure and beat myself up. It would be unhealthy to hold that D+ over my head and not let it go. This entire exam experience sucked (and even writing this blog is uncomfortable), but this instance reiterated a powerful lesson in return.

Wrapping Up

In life, we fail. J.K. Rowling said it best, “It is impossible to live without failing at something unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.” With that said, it is essential to understand that

We are not defined by failure

After we fail, we can reassess and do better next time

Once we learn where we need to go, move on and let it go.

I’m looking forward to my next exam in my Media Evolution class. I will continue to take this experience as a learning one and do better next time. Now that this blog is public I have no choice but to annihilate the next exam. I can’t wait to give you an update on my next test.

If I can be this self-aware and learn from this failure, you can learn from whatever failure you may encounter.

Be Inspired.

If you need some more inspiration listen to Move Along by The All American Rejects.

This song got me pumped to write this blog.